How Bonobos Reinforces Its Startup Culture on Cyber Monday

All hands on deck for a busy day

“Ninjapalooza” teaches employees what customers really want. Bonobos
Headshot of Ann-Marie Alcántara

“Live from New York, It’s Chaturday Night Live!”

At Bonobos’ New York headquarters on Cyber Monday, the clothing company tipped its cap to SNL during a sketch at its eighth annual Cyber Monday all-hands event that it cheekily calls “Ninjapalooza.”

Ninjapalooza is more than just a corporate meeting. It is a way for the menswear company to gather more feedback than usual, while employees try on a customer service hat and learn what they can do to make shopping better. To make it enjoyable, the day includes catered food, sketch comedy and lots of energy throughout the day—and night— to keep employees going.

“It’s this amazing moment for us to celebrate the customer and put the customer front and center and bring that feedback loop even closer to everyone in the organization,” said Micky Onvural, newly appointed CEO of Bonobos.

On a typical day, the company receives about 500 points of contact across three channels: chat, email and phone. But on Cyber Monday, that number exceeds more than 4,000. That’s why the company asks its about 190 employees at headquarters to join the customer service desk for the day, rotating in shifts to keep customers happy—and spending—on one of the busiest days of the year.

According to Adobe Analytics, $7.9 billion was spent by U.S. consumers this year—beating last year’s $6.6 billion, showing the growing force of Cyber Monday.

Bonobos’ customer service representatives, called “ninjas” (yes, Bonobos calls its customer service employees ninjas) aren’t asked to read a script, which bucks the industry standard of having customer service reps reading prepared remarks. Mike Diaz, senior customer experience and performance lead at Bonobos and in charge of putting Ninjapalooza together, said representatives are asked to respond to customers from an “empathetic perspective” and to “use their own voice.”

There’s no concern over giving out too many promo codes, store credit or refunds either; Henry Dunn (no relation to Andy Dunn, founder of Bonobos), senior customer experience manager, who’s worked there for three years and started out as an entry-level customer service rep, said he’s never had to tell a ninja to stop (that would break the ninja code) and that managers trust the employees’ judgement (proto-ninja).

All of this sounds nice and sweet with a team of about 30; some who are salaried and others hourly, but with Bonobos’ looking towards growth, it’s hard to imagine this level of customer service scaling. Dunn isn’t too concerned about it however, since he said the team is the same size it was three years ago and the rate of contacts has gone down.

Part of that is shifting priorities, like shutting down phone service on Sundays but extending chat hours. Dunn said chat is about 50 to 60 percent of all contacts.

Onvural added that 45 percent of customers who contact the company, come pre-purchase and are generally asking for advice—which she views as good versus seeing an increase in user experience and design questions like changing a shipping address. There’s also low turnover in the ninja organization which Onvural attributes to hiring a mix of employees who want to join and grow within the company and those who are more “artistic” and want a better job than “busing tables.”

Of course, there’s more to “Ninjapalooza” than just bonding across teams, comedy shows and free food. The data gathering from customers is valuable for employees like George Vasilopoulos, senior associate of production, who can directly hear from customers about problems with the product. Or for Niki Canton, a senior user experience researcher who learns what issues people have navigating the site.

For example, a problem with checkout in 2017 was fixed this year—and reduced the number of contacts. All of this is also data that Walmart, theoretically has access too (Walmart bought Bonobos in 2017 for $310 million), though Onvural said it has not touched the company’s data.

“We are leveraging Walmart from a buying perspective from the back end like shipping costs, and credit card fees,” Onvural said. “But [in] regards to how we build the company, how we develop the customer experience, we’re moving froward against the vision that we have—to fit every man—and give them the confidence to help them feel their best.”

To Onvural,“Ninjapalooza” also represents the company’s investment into its “Guideshops” (Bonobos’ term for its showrooms) and keeping this level of customer service “front and center of the brand.” She declined to share the company’s net promoter score or lifetime value numbers, but said both are “incredibly high.”

Andrew Wingrove, chief experience officer, said one in five customers reach out about an order—which he sees as a positive because it’s an opportunity to interact with them. The Guideshops are central to this level of customer service, as it’s another “mechanism” for the company to scale both that human element while reaching into new markets.

As the brand continues to grow and “Ninjapalooza” preps for its ninth year, Onvural said keeping the company’s culture and brand in sync has to come from her and the executive team.

“It means we need people who have the same passion for their customer, and passion for the brand and bring that level of joy and energy to the workplace every single day and courage,” Onvural said. “It’s not just about the work you do but how you do it.”

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@itstheannmarie Ann-Marie Alcántara is a tech reporter for Adweek, focusing on direct-to-consumer brands and ecommerce.